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Jamaican soup made with local birds

Neily LFR soup
Elspeth Hay
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Sometimes when you keep hens, you end up with roosters. Our hens hatched two baby chicks last summer, and we lived with them for a while. But they grew up to be roosters, and eventually, we had to cull them from the flock. We put one in the freezer and gave one to our friends Neily and Patricia Bowlin, who showed us how to make these tough birds into something delicious. Neily and Patricia live in Harwich, but they’re originally from Black River Jamaica and Neily says since he was a kid, he’s been eating roosters in a dish called cock soup.

"Like the chicken that I'm cooking right now, in Jamaica, we call that common fowl. You know, we have, you know, the white chickens, which are the broilers," says Neily. "And then, like whatever chickens that we have running around the yard and the bushes wherever, laying eggs, free-range, and we call those common fowls."

Common fowls are tough — they aren’t fattened up like broilers, and they don’t taste good roasted or oven-fried. They’re better cut up and cooked down into soup.

"So with a common fowl, you can't just cut through the bones because the bones are really tough. So it's, it's like, you know, surgery in order to break it down because you want to find, like, all the joints and slice the meat off if you can't get through the bones. If you can get it to break apart while cooking, you’re in soup heaven."

Neily uses the whole bird — not just the neck and body, but also the feet, which are full of collagen — a protein that adds body and nutrients. First, he cooks the cut up rooster with garlic and water in a pressure cooker for 30 minutes.

"Then I add my squash, carrots, little bit more garlic, let that simmer for a little while before we take it to the next level."

The next level is root vegetables: more carrots, finely cut potatoes, and an incredibly healthy small green fruit.

In Jamaica, they call it chocho, which is the Patua word for it.

Here in a lot of major grocery stores, it’s called chayote.

"It’s something that normally like as kids you’d be like ‘Oh, I don’t want it because I’m not sick,’ you know but you know when they make soup they put it in there because it just adds to the body," says Neily. "It doesn’t have any flavor, it’s just, you’re getting real, normal, natural nutrients without having to add too much stuff that you didn’t grow."

Patricia says chayote or chocho tastes kind of like turnip but it’s high in protein and known to ward off heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and bad circulation. In Jamaica, almost all the ingredients for cock soup come from the backyard. After the carrots and garlic and potatoes and chocho come thyme, a scotch bonnet pepper that Neily and Patricia put in whole so that it adds flavor without adding too much heat, chopped up pumpkin or squash, scallions, several types of yam, and Patricia’s homemade dumplings, made with flour, water, and salt.

"Start it with a spoon, that’s how my mom used to do it, take the excess off the spoon, and just get your hands in there and knead it," Patricia says.

LFR jamaican soup
Elspeth Hay
/

Patricia shapes the dumplings into little round wheels, then drops them into the pot. At first, they sink to the bottom, but when they’re done cooking, they float. Now, it’s time for one more ingredient—critical but not homegrown.

"It ain't cock soup if you don't put the cock soup in it. It’s what they call literally cock flavored soup mix, and it has a little rooster on there as well," added Neily. "And it says Authentic Jamaican. It's got a bunch of different spices in there and some tiny bits of you know, noodles and stuff to add thickness to the soup as well. But that's the secret ingredients in terms of where you get like the burst of flavor from your soup."

Neily and Patricia both say that in Jamaica, a big pot of cock soup is always made on a Saturday — they’re not sure why, only that it’s tradition. But here, their day off together is Tuesday. So, the day has changed, but the soup stays the same.

Neily added, "Good old Jamaican cock soup…Saturday night dinner on a Tuesday!"

Neily and Patricia Bowlin’s Cock Soup

Traditionally in Jamaica, this soup is served on Saturdays. It’s cooked either using a pressure cooker or over a wood fire and makes good use of what Neily calls ‘common fowl’—older, free-range roosters or hens that are too tough to eat like broilers but still bring plenty of body and nutrients to this flavor-packed soup. This makes a bit pot of soup that will serve 12-15 people.

Ingredients:

One rooster or common fowl, plucked and cleaned, preferably with the feet and neck

2-3 cloves garlic

1/2 sweet cooking pumpkin or winter squash, peeled, cleaned, and cut into roughly 1-inch cubes

5-6 carrots, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces

3-4 large potatoes, washed and cut into 1-inch pieces

2 chocho or chayote, peeled, hard central seed removed, and cut into 1/2-inch pieces

1 pound all-purpose flour

Salt to taste

4-5 scallions, ends trimmed

A handful of thyme sprigs

1 whole Scotch Bonnet pepper

1 large Jamaican yellow yam, often called ‘name’ in American grocery stores, peeled and cut into large half-moons (if you do this ahead of time, put the yam chunks into water to prevent them discoloring and turning black)

1 packet Grace’s ‘Authentic Jamaican’ pumpkin flavored soup mix

1 packet Grace’s ‘Authentic Jamaican’ cock flavored soup mix

Chop the bird into stew size pieces—including the bones, neck, and feet. Put these in a big pot or a pressure cooker, cover with water, add 1-2 cloves garlic, and cook either in the pressure cooker or outside over a wood fire until they start to get tender (about 30 minutes for the pressure cooker, a bit longer over the fire). When the meat begins to break apart add 1 more clove garlic, half of the cut up pumpkin or squash, half of the cut up carrots, the potatoes, the chocho/chayote, and more water as necessary (you still have more things to add, so keep that in mind) and simmer, stirring often, for 30-45 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the dumplings. Put the flour in a large mixing bowl and season lightly with salt. Add water a little bit at a time, stirring with a spoon, until the mixture starts to come together. Keep adding water a tiny bit at a time until you have a dough that looks and feels a lot like pie crust dough. Once it comes together, knead it for 4-5 minutes, adding flour as necessary. Set it aside to rest for 15-20 minutes while the soup simmers. Stir the soup every few minutes to help the chicken and veggies break down and thicken the broth.

Pound the scallions with the back of a knife so that they are crushed but still whole. Throw in these scallions and the thyme. Make the dumplings, either by shaping them with your hands

into roughly 2-3 inch flat wheels or logs (called ‘spinners’). Drop them into the soup; they will sink at first but later float when they are done cooking. Add the remaining pumpkin or squash and carrots, and the Scotch Bonnet and simmer for another 30-45 minutes. As the soup simmers, the first round of root vegetables and the chicken meat should be slowly disappearing, melting into the broth and making it thick. Finally, add the pumpkin soup flavoring packet and the cock soup flavoring packet. Stir well and simmer for another 10-15 minutes, stirring often. Taste for seasoning, salt as needed, and serve piping hot. Neily says this soup is even better as leftovers the following day.

An avid locavore, Elspeth lives in Wellfleet and writes a blog about food. Elspeth is constantly exploring the Cape, Islands, and South Coast and all our farmer's markets to find out what's good, what's growing and what to do with it. Her Local Food Report airs Thursdays at 8:30 on Morning Edition and 5:45pm on All Things Considered, as well as Saturday mornings at 9:30.